Ilan Ramon

Voices from the field

Remembering Ilan Ramon: Astronaut & Educator

By Josh Feigelson

יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי-גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם
Yadoa teda ki-ger yihyeh zarecha b’eretz lo lahem.
Know that your descendents will be strangers in a land not their own.

~ Genesis 15:13

The condition of being a stranger, a ger, is woven into Jewish identity. From Abraham through the present day, to be Jewish is to stand inside and outside ourselves at the same time. It is to be at home and to be a foreigner, or at least to have the awareness that we were once foreigners, at every moment.

This is why travel experiences are so powerful. When we travel we step out of home and look back on home from a new angle. We call this “widening our horizons” or “gaining new perspectives.” It is a basic element of Jewish identity.

Of the many remarkable features of the story of Ilan Ramon z”l, none is perhaps as striking as the effect that traveling to space had on his own sense of himself. By all accounts, Col. Ramon was not a particularly devout Jew. Yet when confronted with the trip of a lifetime, the trip beyond the earth itself, Ilan Ramon tapped into not only a deep sense of Israeliness, but a deep sense of Jewishness as well. He carried a miniature Torah scroll with him. He took a mezuzah from the Holocaust. He observed Shabbat and kept kosher. And of the 16 pages of his diaries that miraculously survived the explosion of the Columbia, one of them contained the text of the Friday evening Kiddush.

Ramon told an interviewer that he felt he was representing “all Jews and all Israelis.” As the first Israeli to travel beyond the bounds of the Earth, Ilan Ramon stepped outside of his previous identities. He saw himself in a new light. His own history was awakened, and his sense of himself—child of a survivor, shining example of the Zionist revolution, heir to the legacy of Abraham—was transformed. Talk about an immersion experience.

As we observe the anniversary of Ilan Ramon’s heroic flight and tragic death, we in the world of Jewish and Israel education would do well to reflect on some of the lessons of his story. The story of Israel is inseparable from the story of the Jewish people. Israel education is inseparable from Jewish education, and Jewish education is interwoven with Israel education. Like Col. Ramon’s story, great Israel education involves diverse narratives: personal narratives, historical narratives, religious narratives, folk narratives and more. And just as Ilan Ramon was transformed by an experience of travel, great Israel—and Jewish—education is immersive and integrated, and speaks to the core of the participant.

Among the parks, buildings, and even an airport control tower named after Ilan Ramon, a good number of schools, both in Israel and the United States, have been named in his honor. This reflects a final striking aspect of the journey of Ilan Ramon: from the outset, he saw his voyage as a great adventure in learning—for himself, for his country, and for his people. As we remember the life of Ilan Ramon, we should reflect on how much he continues to teach the educators of the world.